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A Mighty Heart

In A Mighty Heart, Angelina Jolie finally proves her Oscar win wasn't a fluke —Matt Anderson (DVD review...)

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Tom and Jerry is about as much fun as walking barefoot across a floor covered with mouse traps.

Walk on the Mild Side

Thomas D. Cat and Jerome A. Mouse
Thomas D. Cat and Jerome A. Mouse

When the sound design is the most notable accomplishment in a movie featuring a mix of live action and animation, there’s a problem. It’s worth checking the calendar. Yeah. It’s 2021. And yet, somehow, there’s nothing in this Tom and Jerry that wasn’t done — better — in Who Framed Roger Rabbit all the way back in 1988.

As it stands, the action picks up with Tom and Jerry feuding as always. Right from the start, it’s acknowledged they’ve been at it for a long time. Both are looking for a new home and both set their eyes on the ritzy Royal Gate Hotel, a New York hot spot for the jet set which is noted for a fabulously ornate glass atrium that’s introduced early in the movie. (That’s a feeble attempt at some sort of foreshadowing; of course, that atrium’s gonna come a’ crashin’ down as the feuding cat and mouse escalate their antics.)

The movie has something akin to a conceit. All animals — pets, circus, zoo, street and otherwise — are animated. That explains away how a cat and mouse can run around the “real world,” create a ruckus and not raise an eyebrow of astonishment. At least that’s something to work with, but screenwriter Kevin Costello (scribing his feature follow-up to Brigsby Bear) doesn’t go far enough.

Instead, it’s up to Kayla (Chloe Grace Moretz), masquerading as a hospitality professional after being fired from a laundry delivery gig, to capture Jerry before an extravagant multi-cultural wedding at the hotel, an event taken to the limits with peacocks, elephants and Ken Jeong in a restrained appearance as the hotel’s chef.

Kayla hires Tom to get the job done.

Mayhem ensues.

Competing Rodents

The timing of this release is unfortunate for both Tom and Jerry. It was only last week when Disney+ debuted Flora & Ulysses, a mix of live action and animation based on a popular children’s book. The contrast cannot be any starker. While both are over-the-top, high concept larks, Flora & Ulysses hit the right tone — and equally significantly — found the right cast and director.

Flora & Ulysses features a remarkable performance from a relative newcomer, Matilda Lawler, in the title role of Flora. Merely 10 years old, she captured the movie’s spirit and made the tall tale of a squirrel with superpowers work really well. There’s a lot of goofy humor thrown in, but the cast buys into it so the audience can, too.

And a highlight is the animated squirrel, Ulysses. It’s a sophisticated creation of highly detailed CGI; a painstaking amount of effort went into making the squirrel seem real – at least within the confines of the story being told.

Chloe Grace Moretz in a cat and mouse game
Chloe Grace Moretz in a cat and mouse game

In Tom and Jerry, the human stars are seasoned, familiar faces. Chloe Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) and Michael Pena (Ant-Man) are usually very likable and they’re both extremely capable of bringing quirky characters to life in comedic situations. Here, both of them miss their marks under the misdirection of Tim Story (who also fumbled with the pre-MCU Fantastic Four).

As for Tom and Jerry — and all the other animated creatures — they follow an old-school animation look that’s been touched up to try to give them a modern makeover. The look — by design — is a computer version of hand-drawn animation grafted onto real-world landscapes, but the style can’t be sustained through 100 minutes of mayhem. Despite all the mechanical efforts to support the physical world disruptions, the animation doesn’t go far enough to embed the characters with enough lighting effects and multi-dimensional characteristics to give the movie some desperately needed sophistication. The effects grow old quick, and the end result is a tedious exercise in trying to revive a decades-old cartoon feud.

None of this is helped by the couple behind the wedding. They’re Ben and Preeta and they’re supposed to be New York’s most celebrated couple. Yet Ben (Colin Jost, How to Be Single) is remarkably bland and the big question is what the heck Preeta (Pallavi Sharda, Lion) sees in the wealthy dork. As far as power couples go, they’re completely unappealing – the vapid ilk of social media ruffage like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.

The Long and the Short

Michael Pena with Tom
Michael Pena with Tom

Okay, while it’s mostly a disaster, there are a few good moments in Tom and Jerry. There’s a relatively inventive scene in which Tom becomes the Batcat as he attempts to capture his prey, Jerry. Tom also executes one nifty, Rube Goldbergian mouse trap in an effort that goes by a little too quickly for its own good. Yeah, Jerry’s swanky bachelor pad of a mouse hole is actually pretty neat, complete with a miniature 4K TV. And, sure, Droopy’s cameo is cute.

Come to think of it, those bits amount to roughly the running time of one of the classic Tom and Jerry shorts. Maybe that’s all this movie should’ve been — a short running in front of a feature, perhaps the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong.

There are so many things here that should’ve been rethought.

No doubt the mishmash of music concocted by Christopher Lennertz — who’s scored quite a few comedies, including Pitch Perfect 3 and Identity Thief — is intended to breathe some energy into the proceedings, but it becomes unusually invasive, regardless of whether it’s Lou Reed or Beethoven whose musical cues are being pinched.

All told, this Tom and Jerry is a soulless endeavor that struggles to find a tone and a pace — and a relevance — that can match the efforts of Hanna-Barbera from 70 years ago.